This interview has been delayed for far too long and for that, I sincerely apologize.
A lot has been happening in Redbox Studio – good happenings but still, it takes everyone’s involvement and effort and one thing led to another. And that is why this interview has been a tad late in arriving.
Anyway, we shan’t sit around and mope, shall we?
This engineer (whom we’re featuring this time) has become a good friend in many ways.
He “discovered” us online one day some years ago and we ended up becoming firm friends and have met up each time we go to Kuala Lumpur (which actually isn’t very often but enough to meet the people that matter).
In fact, if you want the back story on him (and you seriously should read his highly interesting marketing techniques and how sexy ladies feature in his marketing) you can read this blog post which we did back in 2007!
That is how long ago we’ve been friends.
This year, I decided to delve deeper into his brain and see what truly makes Yeo tick.
Let’s see, how shall I describe him? He’s witty, always eager to learn (a firm trait of any business owner) and never watches TV. He’s often tinkering with his audio stuff, making them better and better.
He’s also a self-confessed dog lover and takes his dog-walking seriously every evening.
In fact, he takes his dog super seriously!
Tonto, his obedient dog, is a joy to watch as he’s truly pampered by Yeo who takes time to make dog treats on his own! This guy is not even averse to tasting the dog treats, just so he knows its yummy factor. (I love my cat, Margaret and I do feed her boiled fish but still, I wouldn’t want to taste my pet’s fishy snacks!).
Yeo still holds his day job because I believe he secretly enjoys his day job! Yet he’s having a pretty good time in his hobby-turned-business too. It is a testament to the adage, Do What You Love and The Money Will Follow.
I am leaving his answers untouched, yes, even the non-capitalization of each sentence because that demonstrates his eccentricity.
If only more people were like this!
Tell us a bit about yourself and why you’re doing what you do now (who are your products for and how did you start).
i’m a boring china man who wants another stream of income!
seriously, it all started in 2002. i have been building audio equipment for own usage since i couldn’t afford commercial gears but boutique audio components like resistors and capacitors are so expensive here. this is understandable as it is a niche market. in fact i find it cheaper to buy stuffs overseas and ship them here. since i figured there must be folks like me in the same situation, it makes sense to try to acquire local distributorship of such components and sell them locally.
and that is what i did. it helps that these manufacturers are also small players so they are very conducive to business. thus it was quite easy to acquire distributorship.
i started my biz by acquiring local distributorship and selling them locally. over the years, i gradually began to design my own gear and this slowly led the path to where i am today, being more of a manufacturer rather than trader and selling overseas a lot more than selling locally.
What made you take the path less travelled? What inspired you?
it was meant to fulfill my need! ha!
when studying in the usa, i appreciate the convenience of internet business and could see its potential, so when i wanted to start this biz here, the internet presents itself as the best choice since i could start up a biz while still holding a day job, with minimal start up cost and minimal day involvement.
What is a typical day like?
well, i hold a day job so there goes 9 hours! so most biz activity is done off office hours, during weekends and during holidays.
some aspects of it is pretty routine.
- check email. if there is a new order, process it – package it, arrange for fedex pickup.
- answer customer queries via email or via forum.
- product development. try out new circuit ideas. implement in current products.
- replenish stock. email supplier.
- write new article for website.
- if customer sends back units to be repaired, work on them.
- purchase new engineering tools, purchase audio components to try out different ideas.
- improve website. update script, add marketing tools, fix script bugs etc.
so all in all, there is a huge variety of activities so it’s hard to describe a typical day, but it should cover most activities above.
Apart from running your business, what do you do?
i’m a “lousy” engineer in an engineering company.
What did you invest in when you started?
i started off by taking distributorship of products so taking stock was the bulk of my start up cost. i think i spent a few thousand ringgit back then.
How long have you been in business?
started in 2002, so it’s exactly 10 years now. and i remember that was march 2002!
What is your workplace like?
i’ll snap the messiest photo and email you later.
as i don’t have a dedicated work place, the line between “home” and “work” is blurred. my audio stuffs are scattered throughout the house. wifey has given up on me! (so i win!) i have a small room as my lab. it is extremely messy but i know where everything is located. one of my friend described my room as a garbage dump. i still think he is being kind.
i have some pretty decent engineering tools. i have soldering/desoldering irons, multimeters, oscilloscope, function generator, logic analyzer and a listening test setup. i also have a bench drill and various wood working tools.
What aspects of your business do you enjoy the most?
the ecstastic look of happy customers, the smile, the grin, the non-stop nods… and also the friendship i developed with my customers. through this hobby/biz, i have met some wonderful folks, completely beyond my social circle, who in turn have enriched my life in so many ways.
What are your plans for the next 2 years?
i have some ideas to develop more interesting products. i need to acquire other skills first so it’s going to be an exciting journey.
What do you do better than anybody else?
i’m no specialist. i feel that i’m an all rounder. i like to play with different stuffs and learn (and relearn) new skills. so i don’t pigeon hole myself into just one specialty. i think this is very important in this day and age whereby having a broad range of skill sets is just as a valuable, if not more valuable, than specializing in just one skill set.
so there is nothing i’m better than anyone else.
How has growth been for your company?
from 2002 till 2008, growth has been fantastic, almost doubling in revenue every year. the past 3 years have been slower due to a few reasons, but mainly because the economic slowdown does impact a globalized biz and also lack of new cutting edge products.
What do you consider a breakthrough for your business? When and how did this happen?
there was no major breakthrough but there were a few small significant ones.
1. making own products to sell. this is a lot more interesting, and profitable, than trading. have to design (for performance, for ease of testing, for reliability, for future upgrades), manufacture (supplies, logistics), market, customer service… didn’t realize what world i was entering but i learned fast!
2. implementing a shopping cart script on the website. before this, have to answer 20-30 emails every day. but once have the shopping cart script set up on site, ordering became a lot easier for customers. no one should do online biz without a good shopping cart script!
3. facilitated an “open source project”. one of my product was heavily modified by my customers. they reported their results on my forum so this prompted more folks to try out the mods and more experiments all over the world. this product just got better and better, thanks to the sheer engineering effort and generosity of sharing of my customers. so i witnessed and facilitated this “almost” open source project. it wasn’t designed with this in mind but things just happened and i’m grateful for the experience. i was truly humbled and learned there is just so much one could do on your own but building such a community and being part of it is simply magical. i learned so much in such a short time! this is truly the power of the internet.
What are the top reasons customers have bought your products or services?
i think they like me. 🙂
i believe my products give my customers better enjoyment of music rather than sound. there is a huge difference between the 2. there are music lovers and there are sonic effect lovers.
music lovers want less between the music and them. there should be no equipment at all, meaning whatever audio gear you use to play music, it should be transparent. the flow of the music, the emotion invoked, all should reach the listener easily. in simple words, the listener should be touched by the music.
sonic effect lovers are those who are in love with their audio gear rather than the music. they have tremendous pride in their “system”. it is rarely about the music. sonic effect lovers also like to impress friends with gunshot, tornado etc sound effects.
it is easy to tell the diference between the 2. music lovers have way tremendous music knowledge. sonic effect folks may have rm200k systems but no more than 20 cds.
i think my philosophy is more agreeable to the music lovers.
What do you think is your most successful marketing strategy for your business? Also, what is the least successful marketing strategy you’ve used?
i don’t really have any business strategy. i’m guided by what’s more “fun” and interesting rather than what’s going to bring me more moolah so if there is a successful marketing strategy, i think the most successful got to be setting up and implementing the shopping cart script as well as facilitated the “almost” open source project.
some folks like the way i name my products after beautiful women. i don’t know whether this could be considered a strategy but it is a lot more fun to say “i listened to charlize and she sings very well!” rather than “i listened to your amplifier and it sounds great!”. audio nuts are just too serious so you have to help them relax!
What would your advice be to those thinking of starting a business from the ground up?
just do it. be adaptable. you need to have passion in what you do. making money is not a reason to start a business.
sorry, couldn’t limit to just one.
Made any business mistakes you regret?
if my approach were more aggressive, focussing on improving sales and revenue every quarter, i may be driving a new benz and living in a bungalow now…
seriously, i can’t think of any business regrets.
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
24 hours just isn’t enough. my biggest biz challenge is finding interested, competent and honest folks to help out.
What does success mean to you?
it doesn’t mean anything to me. failure doesn’t mean anything either. both are just phases in which we’ll go through in any endeavour we take.
(Krista’s note: We have a pair of Yeo’s custom-made horns, albeit on a smaller scale than the ones he has in his home in KL. So yes, we are his customers too!)
Yeo’s website is at: http://diyparadise.com
Entrepreneurship or even an interesting life happens in many ways. Some people quit their jobs and leap after their dream job (such as Alexandra Wong whom we featured a few months ago). Some people like Yeo juggle both day job and passion.
Come back for the next interview – this lady started her business because a teacher once told her that her son couldn’t learn!